Wednesday, April 19, 2017

‘On Contact With Chris Hedges’: Putting the War in Syria in Full Context

It’s been more than a week since the Trump administration abruptly switched out of “America first” mode and into intervention mode by dropping 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airfield. As Chris Hedges and Alternet journalists Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton argue in this episode of “On Contact With Chris Hedges,” the American public has been lacking something very important before—and after—that strike.

Simply put, that would be context. More specifically, it comes down to crucial questions that are not being addressed publicly by members of the U.S. government or the mainstream media. 

Take these questions, for example: What’s the relationship between the regime change in Libya, encouraged and enabled by the Obama administration in 2011, and the ongoing refugee crisis? Or between that crisis and Brexit? Who are the White Helmets? How are all these questions related to the current conflict in Syria, and the role of the U.S. in that conflict? What role do Iran and Saudi Arabia, in addition to Russia, play in Washington’s stance toward Syrian President Bashar Assad?
Hedges opens the discussion by pointing to the contextual vacuum that American media outlets and government officials aren’t in a hurry to fill. He notes how U.S.-backed campaigns for regime change “have a long history.”  

Norton, who reports for Alternet’s Grayzone project with Blumenthal, remarks that there has been “no independent international corroboration” of the official Western account that the Syrian government was behind the alleged lethal gassing of Syrian civilians on April 4, which spurred Trump to order military action.

Blumenthal is blunt as he warns, “If Syria is finally smashed apart, we will see the release of the monster of all monsters.” 

Below, watch Hedges and his guests connect the dots about “The Uncivil War,” as the episode is titled: 

—Posted by Kasia Anderson

Thursday, April 13, 2017

White House claims on Syria chemical attack ‘obviously false’ - Prof. Theodor Postol of MIT

"Trump has just given jihadis a thousand reasons to stage fake flag operations"

Even Raging Grannies Can’t Convince Council to Do the Right Thing in Downtown Seattle/South Lake Union Rezone

I'm proud to be one of the Grans in the video here.  

Original article here:

Guest Column by Susanna Lin
It’s a disappointing day for Seattle when the City Council can’t raise the affordable housing requirements for Downtown/South Lake Union developers from 2 to 5%, when other cities with “Mandatory Incentive Zoning” programs set aside 10-30% of their units as affordable. In a time when a record number of people are sleeping on the streets, most of our City Council voted on Monday to give corporate developers, the wealthiest of all city developers and rich enough to build in these areas, a virtual free pass on affordable housing requirements.
The recently enacted incentive zoning program in Seattle is called Mandatory Housing Affordability or MHA.  It gives developers an “incentive” (more potential profit) in the form of extra developable height in exchange for a mandatory requirement that developers set aside some of their units as affordable or pay an in-lieu fee towards affordable housing.  This mandatory requirement only is applied in areas affected by the rezone.  (Lots of technical speak, I know, but keep reading!)Screenshot 2017-04-11 at 10.58.13 PM
During the Full City Council meeting on Monday regarding the Downtown/South Lake Union rezone, Councilmember Lisa Herbold introduced an amendment to try and increase the minimum affordable housing requirement from 2 to 5% of units that developers would have to set aside as affordable.  Still far below other cities with similar programs.  Her amendment would have applied the same formula to the Downtown/SLU rezone as is being applied to the rest of the city.  But only Councilmember Kshama Sawant supported Herbold’s amendment. Once this was disposed of, the full Council then voted 9-0 to approve the upzones.
The crowd that gathered in the City Council chambers on Monday to testify was roughly 50/50 split on asking the Council to pass the rezone without amendments versus urging the Council to support Herbold’s amendment because a 2% affordable housing requirement is not enough! The Raging Grannies were one of the first testifiers and put to song their support for Herbold’s amendment. I recommend you watch it…
Also testifying was City Councilmember candidate Jon Grant.  Grant was also a member of the Mayor’s original Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) advisory committee.  He reminded us that the “Grand Bargain,” which concedes lucrative upzones to developers in exchange for these meager affordable housing requirements, was not a public process and the formula was never truly scrutinized.  
Grant was the one member of the HALA advisory committee who abstained from a vote because he felt the proposal did not go far enough.  Grant is campaigning on a platform of 25% affordable housing, a far cry from the 2% minimum that was passed earlier this week.  Seriously, even as I’m writing this I still cannot believe that we had to beg City Council to raise the affordable housing “set-aside” to 5% and yet most of the Council still voted to maintain the outrageously low 2% minimum.  (I’m kinda embarrassed for the other big cities to hear about this one.)
The other half of the room supporting the plan with its feebly low housing requirement wore “Seattle For Everyone” stickers.  I understand that many of these testifiers may believe HALA’s promise to make Seattle more affordable and I do commend them for their activism.  But I’m skeptical of the powers behind Seattle For Everyone – a group funded by Vulcan and Vulcan is listed as a supporter on its website.  Vulcan, founded by Paul Allen, just happens to own over a third of South Lake Union properties and some downtown properties, all within the area benefiting from these upzones.
Allen certainly has a few extra dollars lying around that he could devote to affordable housing.  However he (and other downtown developers) would rather put them into a group like Seattle for Everyone.  But of course, he’s just doing this out of his sense of civic duty.  Why he would never support such a group just because they are pushing forward policies that also happen to increase his profits (while keeping his housing requirement and the public’s benefit as low as possible).  I’m sure that is just a coincidence.  
And just to add to the irony of the day, at the end of the meeting president Bruce Harrell and the rest of the Council heard from a group of people who were living in a homeless encampment under the West Seattle bridge which was scheduled to be swept the next day. Sadly, as is often the case, most of these human beings were given no other place to go (please for a moment imagine what this must be like).  Maybe Paul Allen will offer them a spot on his $250 million dollar yacht, it’s named Octopus.  Or maybe I’ll just go throw up now because I’m so disgusted with the wealthy in this city and the majority of our City Councilmembers who have sold out to them.
Susanna Lin is a neighborhood activist, blogger, volunteer, mom, wife, and physical therapist.  All opinions expressed here are her own.  Her writing can also be found on WallyhoodSeattle Fair Growth and Rumblecrash blogs.  In addition to her land use interests, she has a doctorate in physical therapy from Northwestern University and practices in Seattle.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Victory! Maryland's Anti-Boycott Bill is Dead!" #BDS #BDS

Original post at:

Last Monday was Sine Die, the final day of the Maryland General Assembly’s annual legislative session. We are pleased to announce that the Anti-Boycott Bill SB739/HB949 has officially diedThe legislation never even received a single vote in any committee. For the third consecutive year, legislative attacks on supporters of Palestinian human rights failed decisively.

This outcome was not due to any back-door negotiation from insiders in the legislature or because of lobbyist efforts. It was mainly due to legislators (especially Democratic legislators) being convinced that this bill was unconstitutional or they simply disagreed with it's intent. This convincing was largely done by a grassroots statewide movement -- including YOU.

Here are some highlights of our collective actions to defeat SB739/HB949:
  • Legislative Contact: State legislators from all across Maryland collectively received hundreds of emails, calls and visits from their constituents urging them to oppose the Anti-Boycott Bill. Some legislators were even faced with irate voters at their offices or town-hall meetings complaining about their support for this unconstitutional legislation.
  • Lobby Night in Annapolis: While we scheduled a lobby day on very short notice, we were still able to get over a dozen people to drive out to Annapolis to meet with their legislators. We dropped off literature packets to all members of the committees of jurisdiction. These packets explained clearly the goals of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement and explained why a rapidly growing community supports it.
  • Testimony in Committees: We had nearly 20 activists testify at each bill hearing (February 28th in the House of Delegates, March 1st in the Senate). We were parents students, faith leaders of all religious backgrounds. Two constituents shared very personal tragedies caused by Israel's occupation. With each person getting three minutes to testify, we had ample time to deliver a robust “Occupation 101 teach-in” which was an opportunity that we couldn’t have otherwise had with our legislators.
  • Media: Not only did we get media coverage, but it was favorable coverage. We had this from the Baltimore Sun.Baltimore Jewish Times ran a story which featured our ally Jodie Zisow-McClean. And we had at least ten letters to the editor published. We are anticipating articles soon in the Huffington Post and about our efforts.
  • Legislators: We had a number of legislator friends who worked on preventing this legislation from getting a vote. Our greatest gratitude goes to Delegate Jimmy Tarlau who was outspoken about his opposition to the Anti-Boycott Bill. Delegate Tarlau powerfully rebutted Delegate Ben Kramer during a radio debate on the Marc Steiner Radio Show.
  • We Became a Community: Some of us Freedom2Boycott activists had been working on this issue over the past three years, while others joined this year. Some spent hours in Annapolis giving testimony while others posted Facebook, made calls or sent money to pay for our website. It all made a difference. And we have evolved into an engaged an highly effective community.

With so many challenges to social justice today, it is important to acknowledge and take time to celebrate those victories in which we have made a difference.

But we also know that a lot of resources will continue to be invested towards attacking the BDS movement for Palestinian human rights. We will continue to remain in touch if there are other threats to our right to boycott. Meanwhile, please know that your contributions are immensely appreciated!

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Phil Monsour featuring Rafeef Ziadah - "Ghosts Of Deir Yassin"

"You see that we are rising
Our day is shortly coming"

"Palestine Revolutionary Poet Ahmed Dahbour Passes Away Aged 72"

A commenter on Youtube described the above song as "Palestine calling the Arab World"

from the Palestine Chronicle:
The Palestinian Ministry of Culture said in a statement, “with the passing of Dahbour, Palestine has lost not only one of the giants of literature and Palestinian creativity, but rather a landmark that has always been directed to Palestine.”

"Tulsi Gabbard: This destructive war in Syria, like Iraq & Libya, aims at the regime change..." via @Jimmy_Dore

Tom Hayes - Challenges in Working Against the Israel Lobby -- EXCELLENT! 25 Minutes of Truth

"Syrian Gas Attack is a Lie - 'Stop Your Governments!' - Russia"--Dispute This If You Can (You Can't)"

Saturday, April 08, 2017

"REVEALED: We Are Indeed Solar Geoengineering & It’s A Bad Idea" -- Brilliant @LeeCamp

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Empire Files: Anti-Black Racism Reveals Israel’s White Supremacy @abbymartin

Black Violin - Stereotypes

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Gaza: Israel's War Drums Are Getting Louder"


On Friday, a senior member of Hamas's military wing, Mazen Faqha, was assassinated in the Gaza Strip by armed gunmen. It was an assassination tactic not seen in Gaza for at least a decade.

Faqha was a leading member of Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades in the West Bank. In 2003, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in Israel for his role in planning attacks following Israel's assassination of Salah Shehadeh, then al-Qassam's leader.

Faqha was set free in the prisoner-exchange deal that released Gilad Shalit in return for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in 2011. He was delivered from prison straight to the Gaza Strip, where he resided until his death.

The timing and the tactic of Faqha's killing raise questions about the possibility of another conflagration between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian factions in Gaza agree unanimously that Israel was behind the assassination. Israel had accused Faqha of planning attacks against it from the occupied West Bankwhile he lived in the coastal enclave. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement.

Faqha's assassination comes at a critical time.

Hamas recently elected Yahya Sinwar as its leader within the Gaza Strip. Sinwar is a senior military figure within Hamas, and is often described as a hardliner and an ideologue. Having replaced Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's soft-spoken Gaza-based political leader, analysts began speaking of a shift in power within Hamas.

They speculated that Hamas' military wing and its constituency in Gaza was strengthening its influence on the group's decision-making at the expense of the seemingly more pragmatic political wing as well as its external constituency.

Concluding that Sinwar's election has moved Hamas towards a more intransigent military stance is premature. For one thing, the movement-wide elections are still ongoing. Ismail Haniyeh and Musa Abu Marzouk are both competing for the top job to replace Khaled Meshaal. Both these leaders are likely to maintain Meshaal's track record of diplomatic engagement.

Hamas still operates a Shura (consultative) system, which ensures there is room to counterbalance intransigent voices. Moreover, Hamas has been actively promoting speculation that it is on the cusp of issuing an updated charter. This document, allegedly, will commit Hamas to an official recognition of the 1967 borders, while withholding recognition of Israel.

This is not a new development.

Nonetheless, this gesture - and the mere act of revising its charter - can be interpreted as a significant sign that Hamas is shifting direction. Most importantly, however, is that Sinwar himself cannot be dismissed as an intransigent ideologue. For many who know him and have engaged with him directly, he is a calculating strategist and a pragmatic thinker.

He is more likely to be the figure to lead Hamas' military wing towards a calculated strategy for reaching the movement's political goals than to pursue fruitless conflagrations with Israel. Improved relations with Egypt and the prospect of reviving ties with Iran, following Sinwar's election, indicate that under his leadership, Hamas in Gaza does not currently desire any major operations that could undermine this trajectory.

This does not mean that a conflagration might not happen. Faqha's seniority would justify retaliation, and Hamas may respond to maintain its legitimacy among its constituents. Concurrently, the opaque manner in which Faqha was assassinated presents Hamas with some flexibility, in terms of how, when and whether to retaliate.

Given Faqha's origins, an attack might well be forthcoming from the West Bank, rather than the Gaza Strip. Similarly, Hamas might choose to focus instead internally and to wage a war on collaborators with Israel who presumably made this attack possible, and who represent a security breach within Hamas.

Hamas' reluctance to move towards an all-out escalation is not shared by Israel. Whether or not Israel was responsible for Faqha's assassination, the government has been actively threatening the ceasefire that has been holding in the Gaza Strip since 2014.

Measures to ease the blockade on Gaza, agreed upon in that ceasefire discussion, are yet to be fully implemented. While some aspects of the blockade have been eased, the number of Gazans allowed to cross the border into or out of Gaza has, in reality, dropped.

The recently released State Comptroller report investigating Israel's actions in Gaza in 2014 has offered a scathing assessment of the country's conduct in the war. It has outlined an absence of any strategy on Israel's part regarding Gaza, an absence of efforts to prevent a war, and the state's lack of preparedness to address the certainty of Gaza's imminent collapse into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Israel's approach towards Gaza remains a dangerous and reactionary stance rooted in the collective punishment of two million Palestinians. Despite warnings from Israel's military establishment about the need to stabilise Gaza or engage with Hamas, Israeli politicians remain committed to their "mowing the lawn" approach.

Rather than lifting the Israeli blockade, they [Israeli politicians] engage in intermittent warfare to maintain Gaza as an isolated and defeated territory. Reminiscent of the months before the 2014 assault, Israeli war drums have been getting louder. Last month, Israel arrested Rafat Nasif, a senior Hamas member, in the West Bank, ostensibly to pressure the movement to enter prisoner exchange negotiations.

Projectiles from Gaza fired in response to such provocations are described as hostile acts that necessitate Israeli "self-defence". Hamas has assumed no responsibility for projectiles from Gaza and has taken significant steps to limit rocket fire. Nonetheless, over the past few months, Israel has been responding with increased ferocity as well as with more provocations. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's defence minister, has asserted that another war with Gaza is now a certainty. 

While an escalation at this point would not benefit Hamas, the same cannot be said for Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing legal and political challenges at home, most obviously from other reinvigorated right-wing politicians such as Naftali Bennett.

A show of force in the Gaza Strip would assuage some of Netanyahu's critics and deflect from their insistence on pursuing Israeli annexationist policies in the West Bank. These calls for annexation have surged now that a friendly American administration is in office.

An assault on Gaza would allow Israel's politicians to test the limits of the Trump administration's support for Israeli military operations in Gaza as well as in its northern borders. It will also elucidate the impact of Sinwar's recent election on Hamas and effectively force Hamas's military wing to be less strategic and more reactionary.

Israeli military actions would undermine any reorientation within Hamas towards a revised charter or other efforts that might indicate pragmatism, a self-fulfilling policy that enables Israel to continue justifying its blockade on the Gaza Strip.

"Mowing the lawn" is not just a euphemism, and it is clear that Israel is entertaining another round of fighting on the besieged strip. Such a showdown would be catastrophic for the Gaza Strip. Nothing short of lifting the blockade and moving beyond a military prism for dealing with Gaza would end this cycle of violence, which appears to be rearing its ugly head once more.

Tareq Baconi is the US-based fellow for al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network. His book, Hamas: The Politics of Resistance, Entrenchment in Gaza, is forthcoming with Stanford University Press. 
Source: Al Jazeera